“Have you heard the numbers?” a remarkably calm—more likely numbly exhausted—John Boychuk asks me late Pride Sunday at Sunset Beach.
“No,” I say.
“530,000,” he says quietly.
“Nice,” I reply.
“You think?” he deadpans.
Since then I have.
I’ve thought about the multitudes that seemed to infinitely line both sides of the parade route. Seven, eight, nine-people deep in many spots along Robson and Denman Sts.
Even as my fellow Xtra West-ers and I prepared to set sail on the extended-by-seven-blocks parade route aboard our good ship Sea of Love, we were asked to pose for all kinds of camera-toting Pride fans.
I’ve also thought about the atmosphere on the route itself as we made our way slowly to Sunset Beach.
I’ve thought about friends and family who waved with gusto and yelled out our names as we cruised by.
I’ve thought about those who seemed determined not to show the slightest iota of excitement, preferring instead to stare, sometimes unsmilingly, at the 165-float spectacle.
And I’ve thought about the people who yelled the loudest in the hopes that they’d get more free stuff.
Of course when some of these “fans” were asked to do something to earn the complimentary condom, “blow me” whistle or other booty—say, show a little tit-‘n’-ass—many balked.
I thought as well about the politicians who now perennially try to out-gay each other for Pride.
I thought the go-go boys with their Hedy’s Hotties briefs were supremely gay—until I saw Gregor Robertson expertly glide by on rollerblades. Nothing says G-A-Y like 1980s-skating-fad meets fit-looking and boyishly handsome.
And of course I thought about the now ubiquitous corporate presence.
One major bank’s entry with its palm-fronded tropical theme and de rigueur muscle boys rode high above the rest of the parade. Outsourced or staff-constructed, I wondered, as it thump-thumped into its allotted parade position.
I thought about all this and more—and decided that much of it is wonderful. The mind-boggling turnout, the political participation, the support of all these straight folks; even the seeming corporate embrace of queers.
Without question, it’s beyond comforting to know that rotten eggs, feces and acid-filled whatevers won’t rain down upon you (à la Budapest, for example) as you exercise the very basic right to just be, regardless of your sexuality and gender expression.
Unlike some of those early Vancouver Pride marchers who contemplated pulling bags over their heads for some measure of safety 30 years ago, it never crossed my mind that I needed camouflage.
But did those who first took to Vancouver’s streets with knots in their stomachs fight for the right to throw so much corporate swag into clamouring crowds?
Is our annual, contemporary expression of hard-fought-for Pride being subsumed under commercial razzle-dazzle and the jostling of politicians to home in on a half-million-strong captive audience, courtesy of the queer community?
Are we losing sight—have we lost sight in North America—of the reason we are able to be?
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we wear sackcloth and ashes with the corners of our mouths turned down for greater, gloomy effect.
But it seems to me we’re at a crossroads as a community here.
What defines us as community these days? What makes us stand out as queer?
Understandably, the less we have to struggle—or feel we have to struggle—the more confident, open and complacent we become in our various identities.
But as we busily embrace—bask even—in the increasing tolerance of mainstream society and its institutions, are we losing sight of ourselves?
And what about those within our communities—many in communities of colour—who still can’t openly celebrate Pride?
For that matter, what about a little more cross-town love? Where are the gay boys celebrating dykes and genderqueer trannies?
In our rush to embrace normalcy, we are ignoring the patchwork of segregation that exists within queer communities.
So, agreed: 530,000 people is nothing to sneeze at.
But how many of them appreciate, really know, what it took for us to get there? And how many of us still don’t feel comfortable being there at all?